It has to be dark to see the stars, and Hurricane Katrina has been no exception.
Coming to the Gulf Coast 15 days after the storm, I saw the devastation and the chaos it created. That chaos was not only in the buildings gone but in lives unmoored. Families that were barely hanging on were now homeless, and older people who were making payments from fixed incomes were left with a mortgage and a slab. There was no chance to rebuild because the mortgage payments were still due on a structure that did not exist.
Then came the insurance companies. People were told they had one kind of insurance, such as flood but not wind or they had wind but not mold. The games went on and on, and to this day the loopholes in policies have not been addressed because the insurance companies have successfully stopped the legislation in the Senate. For many people, the fight with the insurance companies created more pain and angst than the hurricane.
However, the stars have been amazing and have shined through the darkness of the pain , suffering and lives lost. By the calculations of the Sun Herald in Mississippi, there have been nearly one million volunteers “and counting.” More than 10 million hours have been logged by these volunteers. I have been blessed to see so much of the work up close and personal. It is a testament to the American spirit.
My favorite volunteer story is “Camp Noah.” Rev. Rosemary Williams of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church is a force stronger than a hurricane. She fed much of the area using outdoor grills after the hurricane, coordinated clothing, worship with other churches and tons of relief and volunteers. One group, a Lutheran church group from Minnesota, came to her church to offer a day camp following the storm. It wasn’t just a feel-good, play-some-games kind of camp. This camp had a real purpose.
The women from the Lutheran church, along with a volunteer from a Minnesota synagogue, aimed their camp at helping children traumatized by the storm. The week-long camp gave everyone child a chance to pick out their own favorite stuffed animal. They spent the week journeying to the stuffed animal and telling it their story. From the telling of the stories to the adults the children began a healing process, and the professionals were able to identify the children who were most in need of further intervention. Children were also able to make “escape” kits of items they would most likely want to take if they had to evacuate again. It was not only a much-needed week of fun for the children, it also provided a real opportunity for change and healing. Camp Noah is just one example of the creative ways that Americans came to help the people of Mississippi and the Gulf. There are thousands of stories just like Camp Noah.
Many families who struggled in FEMA trailers found they actually liked spending time with each other. Communities found that the real end of segregation had come as they worked together to rebuild. Music and art returned as mainstays of individual communities. Exercise and diet were part of newly built community centers. Rev. Williams points out that people became more generous and were thinking of others. They appreciated little things, like being able to get clean and take a bath. Now members of the community are getting healthy together. They talk more to one another, and communities are more vibrant than before the storm.
This does not take away from the lives that were lost or shattered by the storm. It does not take away from people who were left homeless. This is not the way to create a darkness to see the stars, but it does show that despite the rancor that we see every day in the politics of our country, there is an unseen strength that exists in the very fabric of America. That strength shines though the darkest of nights.